Last week, a Houston Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court’s take-nothing judgment rendered after the jury found the insured driver was not negligent in a motor vehicle accident case. Jowdy v. Rossi et al., No. 01-19-00715-CV (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] July 6, 2021).

In Jowdy, the insured driver (“Rossi”) testified at trial that she was on a tollway when she rear-ended a driver who was stopped at the toll booth exit lane (“Jowdy”) and “caused [the] wreck 100 percent.” Jowdy, who was stopped despite the fact that she was in the “toll tag” lane that did not require traffic to stop, testified that she did so because traffic was heavy. Jowdy also testified she believed Rossi was looking off to the side prior to impact. Conversely, Rossi testified she was looking straight ahead with both hands on the wheel, was not speeding or on her phone, and tried to stop in time but could not. Additionally, the investigating officer, Deputy Reeves, testified Rossi’s failure to control her speed was a contributing factor to the accident. Deputy Reeves also testified that, although all drivers have a duty to drive in a prudent manner, accidents could happen even when people are trying to follow the law.

Upon hearing all the evidence, the jury found Rossi not negligent, and the trial court accordingly rendered a take-nothing judgment against Jowdy. Jowdy appealed, in part claiming the evidence was factually insufficient to support the jury’s finding of no negligence, given that Rossi has “admitted” to causing the accident and Deputy Reeves testified she believed Rossi caused the accident and indicated that Rossi failed to control her speed.

On appeal, the Court reminded Jowdy that the occurrence of a rear-end accident does not mean one is negligent as a matter of law, a plaintiff must prove specific facts to support every element of a negligence claim, and there was conflicting evidence regarding whether Rossi was negligent and that such negligence proximately caused the accident. Further, Rossi presented evidence that she exercised some care. Consequently, the jury had to determine whether a reasonably prudent driver would have acted in the same way under the same circumstances, which required judging the credibility of the witnesses and resolving any inconsistencies in witness testimony to determine whether Rossi was such a “reasonably prudent driver.” Moreover, the Court made clear that a driver’s statement acknowledging they were responsible for the crash is not conclusive evidence that the driver breached the duty of ordinary care. Rather, whether such an admission rose to the level of negligence is a question for the jury.

Because Jowdy did not show that the jury’s verdict was against the great weight and preponderance of the evidence, the Court upheld the trial court’s take-nothing judgment.

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